GM Pelinka: Don't blame Westbrook for all of Lakers' woes

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Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, left, sits on the bench with forward Anthony Davis, second from left, Jarred Vanderbilt and D'Angelo Russell during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES – General manager Rob Pelinka says Russell Westbrook doesn't deserve all the blame for the Lakers' struggles throughout his time in Los Angeles.

Pelinka still has renewed optimism about the Lakers' future following a flurry of trades, including the deal that sent away Westbrook after less than two seasons.

“I think all teams at times take risks, trade for a player, and our aspirations when we did the Westbrook trade was that it would lead to a championship-contending team,” Pelinka said.

“We didn’t meet that goal, so you have to then look to pivot if something is not working, to correct it,” he added Saturday in his first extensive comments since adding six new players. “I think with this trade deadline, there was an opportunity there. And I think it’s really unfair to put the last year and a half (on) one player. The whole roster had to come together and fit, and part of sports sometimes is if things aren’t working, you have to fix them.”

After returning to his hometown through a pricey trade in the summer of 2021, Westbrook played some of the worst basketball of his career while struggling to fit into a complementary role alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the big man whose constant injury problems made everything much worse. The trio played together for only 44 of a possible 138 games, going 22-22.

Pelinka says he swapped out nearly half of the Lakers' roster at the deadline to improve their chances for a late playoff run, but also because the moves will make Los Angeles much more likely to be a contender next year and into the future. After losing six of nine, Los Angeles is 25-31 and in 13th place in the 15-team Western Conference heading into Saturday's game at Golden State.

“I think we showed at the trade deadline a willingness to be very aggressive with our future assets to make the team better and to also plan for the future,” Pelinka said. “I’m glad we were able to put action to words.”

Pelinka traded Westbrook, the 2017 NBA MVP, in a three-team deal that brought D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt to the Lakers. Los Angeles also acquired big man Mo Bamba and wing Davon Reed at the deadline after acquiring Rui Hachimura late last month.

The Lakers swapped out six players in four trades to land at least five potential long-term contributors, all for the added cost of a protected first-round draft pick in 2027.

“You could almost look at it as pre-agency,” Pelinka said. “We very intentionally planned these moves to provide optionality in July, and some of these players have team options or team-controlled years on their contract. It gives us the ability to see how these last 26 regular-season games go and how potential postseason games go, and then we can go into this offseason with a higher collection of data points and a real-time analysis of how the pieces fit to make decisions for the future.”

Pelinka felt he needed to blow up the Lakers' supporting cast because the team's initial plan wasn't working for the second consecutive season: The Lakers got off to a 2-10 start under new coach Darvin Ham, and their flashes of standout play never lasted long enough to make any headway in the standings. Davis has missed 24 games due to injury, while James will miss his 13th against the Warriors.

While praising Beasley as “one of the most elite snipers in the game” and Vanderbilt as “one of the most unique young defenders in our game,” Pelinka also was clearly thrilled to land Russell, who spent his first two NBA seasons with the Lakers before Magic Johnson and Pelinka traded him away in 2017.

Russell can be a free agent this summer, but Pelinka made it clear the Lakers want to keep him.

“We do see him as a player that’s not just a short-term rental,” Pelinka said. “We do think he’s a player that could really fit nicely with our core pieces, just bringing spacing and shooting and playmaking and high efficiency.”


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